Geoscience Students Use Video to Engage – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Geoscience Students Use Video to Engage

The ability to communicate effectively is a goal at the core of a liberal arts education. This concept has become the foundation for Associate Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens’ latest project. Students in Arens’ GEO 299, “Carbonates Ancient and Modern-The Bahamas,” and GEO 230, “Earth History,” courses had the opportunity to create videos that explained scientific terms to non-scientist audiences.

Arens’ project was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, which has supported 11 curricular-development projects as part of its Innovative Digital Pedagogies initiative. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the initiative seeks to explore digital pedagogies and new technologies that have potential to enhance student learning within the context of face-to-face learning.

“New technologies and pedagogies can enable learning beyond the classroom in additional physical and virtual environments and facilitate the sharing of information asynchronously. This can free up class time for interactive analysis and in-depth exploration of material and develop students’ skills with cutting edge tools for finding, analyzing and presenting ideas,” according to the Office of the Provost.

The student video projects in Arens’ courses work to prepare science students to communicate with non-scientists. Scientific studies, Arens believes, have applications in other fields, such as public policy studies. Because of these connections to a wide variety of disciplines, Arens hopes to increase communication between scientists, policy makers and the public.

“Science literacy in our culture is low. Only scientists can improve literacy. To do that means reaching out to all kinds of people in a way that was fun and accessible,” Arens says.

Students first created visual storylines that were accessible and engaging to their audiences. Following this, each student project group used time-lapse photography in the field, as well as stop-motion white board animation to tell stories that illustrated scientific concepts and terminology. HWS IT Services’ Digital Learning Team helped to provide equipment and technology utilized in the projects, which included the iMovie application available on Apple products, Whiteboard Animation software and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

The videos, which have been published to YouTube, cover numerous diverse topics. For instance, one group of students chose to focus on pollution in San Salvador. The six-minute film, taking the form of a news broadcast, uses humorous dialogue and graphics to explain the issue of trash washing up on beaches in the Bahamas. Students from HWS collaborated with undergraduate students from State University of New York, Oswego to produce the video during a joint field trip to the island of San Salvador.

“This project definitely caused me to think about the struggles involved with teaching an audience new content, and it also opened my eyes to the many ways of approaching this task,” says Bryson Cochran ’14, who helped create the film.

Another project, created for Arens’s “Earth History” class, illustrates the process by which fossils are preserved over time. The short film’s soundtrack contains memorable songs, and its comic use of stop-motion animation serve to entice audience members that do not necessarily have much familiarity with Geoscience topics.

“To tell a compelling story that somebody else is going to watch, to put in some humor, to make it clear, you have to engage,” Arens reflects. “The videos made that engagement fun and challenging and left little room for going halfway.”

The student-produced videos may be viewed on Arens’s YouTube channel here. Further information on the Innovative Digital Pedagogies initiative may be found at

In the photo above, Bryson Cochran ’14 drags bags of trash along the shoreline.

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